My parents frequently entertained their friends.
I don’t even know how to explain that sentence to my adult children. I can recall perhaps two or three occasions on which my wife and I set out to entertain, and the memory of those occasions reminds me of why we don’t We inherited all the appurtenances necessary to entertaining, even packed and moved them more than once. More than one tea set has survived and several sets of china, but none have seen the light of day since the last unpacking.
A more casual approach to friendship suits me as I am an outgoing introvert, enjoying the company of people quite a bit, until I need to recharge. My recharge alarm inevitably starts to blink well before the party or dinner reaches the organic winding down moment, bringing a familiar dilemma. As the Beatles put it, “I don’t want to spoil the party so I’ll go”, but in leaving, have I spoiled the party? My absence does not dampen any get together, but the act of leaving may give the unfortunate impression that all is not well, with me or with the party, or that it would be polite of others to let the hosts get on with the rest of their lives.
As a host, do I send the “when can I get on with the rest of my life signal?” I do. I try to wallow in companionship as the hours pass, but the fidgeting begins all too early. “Leave the dishes,” my guests implore, but, come on; I’m supposed to chat with food encrusting plates that would wash much more easily with a good rinse right now?
Complicated, and I don’t do complicated well. I certainly don’t seek it out as recreation. So we don’t entertain and obviously give off the “this couple is not the entertaining sort” vibe, which, again, suits me fine.
And yet, I think of the pleasure my parents took in entertaining and wonder if I lack the capacity for friendship that brought them a large circle of friends.
I hadn’t really thought much about friendship, beyond regretting the loss of friends from the various stages of my life until we retired, left a community of colleagues and friends, and moved to a town we hadn’t known. I suppose I imagined friendship as belonging to the general category of things that happen … or don’t.
We now live near Ashland, Oregon, a small city considered somewhat, well, fey, a quality we enjoy. Ashland isn’t a tie-dyed crunchy, dreadlocked, hemp trousered, bandana banded town, although we do often see a person of that description walking his sheep through the parking lot of the local Safeway. For the most part, it is a free thinking, progressive community, occasionally given to conspiracist ranting, and more devoted to essential oils than I might wish, but a town in which the arts are celebrated and artists admired, in which the environment is treasured, and in which mountains and rivers and Shakespearean couplets feed the hearts and souls of its citizens.
So, should be easy to find and make friends, and, in fact, we have met people that we like, but, once again, no entertaining is happening at our house, and the entertainment hotline is not ringing off the hook. I will admit to a certain pathology that may also have something to do with the shape of my social life, a largely unconscious affect announcing that I am miffed not to have been invited to an event I wouldn’t think of attending.
I’m working on that.
As I’ve sorted through contending notions of friendship, I’ve come to the conclusion that while I am authentically friendly and genuinely like the company of many people, I have treasured the friendship of very few. Even as I write, I think of them with gratitude and pleasure. They don’t live here, and I don’t see them as often as I would like, but we’re still connected, and maintain a digital exchange that often makes me laugh out loud.
In looking at the question of friendship, I realize how important humor is to me and how dependent humor is on trust. My friends can say things to me and about me that would be terrifying in an ordinary civilian conversation. Terrifying, and yet, delivered by a friend, capable of throwing me into spasms of laughter. Call 911 funny.
And that observation leads me to a final epiphany. Not only do I never tire of the company of my wife, my brother, my children, I am sustained by their friendship. We don’t all share the same sense of humor, but all three of my kids have left me panting in exhaustion, tears flowing, breathless in admiration of their wit. I love my small family, of course, but can also sit happily in their company for hours and hours, no problem.
They entertain me, and I am delighted to entertain them. I’ll bust out the best china from time to time; it’s pretty and seems to like getting out of the cupboard for a few hours. Some of our meals are elaborate, but a trip to the local ice cream parlor is as satisfactory. I’m glad my parents had friends and enjoyed the back and forth dinners and parties, but I am grateful for the friendships I’ve been given, even if, maybe especially because, I don’t have to get dressed up to enjoy them.